Last year, I named Zodiac Starforce my favorite comic of 2016 and I still stand by that. The comic has more heart in its four issues than many do in dozens, and it’s impossible to read and not be utterly charmed by the whole team. Their friendships feel real, their challenges even more so, and when they rally together, there’s nothing Zodiac Starforce can’t handle — be it invading monsters from another dimension or relationship struggles.
When Zodiac Starforce wrapped up those four issues (now collected in trade paperback), it wasn’t clear if there would be any more. Sure, magical girls may be all the rage at the moment thanks to a resurgence of Sailor Moon and hit cartoons like Steven Universe and Star VS The Forces of Evil, but that’s no guarantee of a return for a limited run comic book.
Thankfully, Astra smiled on creators Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau and Dark Horse ordered a follow-up series — Zodiac Starforce: Cries of the Fire Prince. Its first issue (in stores and available digitally July 5) finds the girls of ZS readjusting to life after defeating Diana and her mean girl minions, having put a stop to Cimmeria’s plan to blanket the whole planet in darkness. Just your typical magical girl, saving the world business.
Life has calmed down a little since then, but there’s still the day to day drama of being a young teen, which Panetta smartly weaves in alongside fighting monsters and saving the world. For Emma, that means deciding if her and Luke are right for each other, while for Kim that means dealing with a father who’s unwilling to support his daughter’s dream of being a professional wrestler.
But being a hero who fights for justice comes with its own hurdles. For newest ZS member, Lily, there’s still a lot of catching up to do. She has yet to discover her own unique power, like Molly’s portals of Kim’s shield, and it’s clearly weighing heavily on her. To be fair, the other girls of ZS have a two year head start, but having a relative newcomer on the team will be challenging for all involved. And while they all support their teammate, there are foreseeable consequences to Libra’s inexperience — especially in battle.
Speaking of battles, though the titular (and totally hunky) Fire Prince only briefly appears at the very end, we do get a little fighting between Zodiac Starforce and some monsters. That rich camaraderie which was a highlight in Zodiac Starforce is still on display here, with the team trading quips and combining their powers in fun, new ways. These girls know how to get the job done, and the fighting is dynamic and exciting.
Additionally, Panetta does a great job at blending comedy with action. Magical girls on the whole are a little goofy, but Panetta finds the laughs without resorting to parody. This fight scene in Cries of the Fire Prince #1 is both thrilling and hilarious, especially in its finish. The whole issue is littered with comedic gems — a sidebar checking in with Savi and her pet turtle is a particular favorite — and they allow Zodiac Starforce to be sincere in its premise but never take itself too seriously.
A large part of Zodiac Starforce‘s charm came from Ganucheau’s cute designs, and she again produces great moments of comedy and action. She’s now sharing artistic duties with colorist Sarah Stern, but the series hasn’t lost any of its vibrancy. If anything, having Ganucheau focus more fully on characters, design, and layout only makes for a better book, allowing for more richly detailed panels and sharper transitions.
It’s fantastic having the Zodiac Starforce team back in action and they’re better than ever. Cries of the Fire Prince has only just begun, but it’s already fulfilling its promise of delivering more magical girl action and witty comedy with just a touch of drama and intrigue. And what intrigue! The Fire Prince has only just arrived, but from where and for what purpose? Only way to find out is to tune in next issue!
Zodiac Starforce: Cries of the Fire Prince #1 is available in stores and digitally on July 5th. Find it at your local comic book store — don’t know where that is? here you go — or via comixology.com.